BISHOP HILL, Ill. — An exhibit featuring the Sami people
gives visitors a glimpse into the life of this culture that is based on herding
reindeer, hunting and fishing.
The “Eight Seasons in Sapmi, The Land of the Sami People”
exhibit currently is on display at the Vasa Order of America National Archives
Inc., located at Bishop Hill.
“Bringing this exhibit here is the brainchild of Viktoria,”
said Rolf Bergman, president of the archives.
“I wanted to display this exhibit because I think it is very
important to provide information about the Sami people,” noted Viktoria Almgren,
archivist for the archives. “They are nomadic people, and their major work is to
herd reindeer from colder to warmer areas, depending on the seasons.”
The oldest traces of the Sami culture are 8,000 years old.
“In the old days, they lived in tents, but now they use
helicopters and snowmobiles,” Almgren said. “The exhibit includes videos of what
Bergman, who was born in Sweden and immigrated with his
family to the U.S. when he was 10 years old, remembers watching the Sami people
come down with their reindeer herds to the coast.
“They move when the rivers are frozen, and at that time,
they used skis or snowshoes,” he said. “Then they go back before the rivers
thaw, and each group had 1,000 or more reindeer.”
Part of the Sami’s livelihood includes selling handcrafted
items from the reindeer, as well as selling the meat from the animals.
The Sami exhibit is divided into the four vivid colors of
the culture — red, yellow, blue and green.
It was developed by Ajtte, the Swedish Mountain and Sami
Museum, and the Sami Duodji, the Sami Handicraft Foundation, which are both
located in Jokkmokk, Sw eden. The exhibit features numerous photos taken by
Birgitte Aarestrup, who lived with the Sami for a year.
In addition to the photos, the exhibit includes traditional
Sami costumes, items made from roots of birch trees, leather items from the
reindeer and reindeer antlers. There are examples of toys, scarves and belts
that are part of the costume and a drum.
“At the end of June, this exhibit will be going to the
Swedish American Museum in Chicago,” the archivist said.
Another reason Almgren brought the Sami exhibit to Bishop
Hill is she wants everyone to know that the archives are for everyone to use.
The mission of the VOA National Archives is to collect,
preserve and display artifacts, historical records and genealogical information
of VOA lodges and their members. In addition, the archives also collect,
preserve and display information relative to Swedish American people.
“The archives are at Bishop Hill because from a Swedish
perspective, this is the beginning of Swedish immigration, when 400 people came
here in 1846,” Bergman explained. “There is a collection of 1,600 audiotapes of
interviews of Swedish immigrants.”
In addition, Almgren said, the national archives are
available for people who are interested in genealogical research.
“We help people with their genealogy, and people come here
to do research for books or students who are doing research for projects,” she
added. “We are preparing for the future by making sure documents don’t get
The Vasa Order of America is a Swedish American Fraternal
organization that originally was organized in 1896 in Connecticut, and it spread
throughout the U.S., Canada and Sweden.
“It started as a structure for immigrant Swedes to support
them with health and funeral benefits,” Bergman explained. “The Vasa Order has a
lodge structure with three layers — local lodges, district lodges and the Grand
He joined a local Vasa lodge in 1982 and held offices at all
three levels, including the Grand Master of the Grand Lodge from 2006 to 2010.
“It is the tradition for the most recent past Grand Master
to become the president of the National Archives, so I’ve been the president for
the past three years,” he noted.
“The Vasa Order is not so much a financial benefit
organization today,” he added. “We are involved with promoting Swedish culture
and heritage through civic events and however we can.”
The peak membership of the Vasa Order occurred in 1929,
“It never recovered from the recession,” he said.
Until recently, the Vasa Order was only open to Swedish
decedents and their spouses.
“In 2006, we opened the membership to anyone interested in
joining,” Berman said. “However, many of our lodges have a lot of older members
because today’s Swedish immigrants speak English, so they don’t see a need to be
In addition to promoting Swedish heritage, the Vasa Order
also provides college scholarships to members and hosts children’s and youth
clubs to help young people understand their Scandinavian heritage.
For more information about the Vasa Order of America, visit
www. vasaorder.com. Information about National Historic Landmark, Bishop Hill
and events scheduled for the year are available at www.bishophill.org.